While I’ve never sent money to a Nigerian scammer, I’ll admit to reading their emails for entertainment.
Their messages follow a formula so simple that it’s almost instantly recognizable:
1. Name a sympathetic figure (prince, heir, widow).
2. Describe terrible circumstances that keep this person from getting a huge sum of money (corrupt officials, false imprisonment, missing wills).
3. Plead for help that only the reader can give (even though the prince, heir, or widow is a complete stranger).
4. Offer to share a substantial portion of the funds in exchange for help in getting them.
5. Provide instructions about how to send money or how to visit Nigeria.
Innocent victims, villains, and missing African treasure: each new variation of the scam has all the ingredients for a bestselling novel. However, with the plea for help, the scammers start straying into fairy-tale country. And, unfortunately for anyone who falls victim to the fraud, this tale doesn’t have a happy ending. People who have gone to Nigeria to complete a transaction have been held hostage or even killed.
Given that criminal nature of this scam is known and the formula is so easily recognized, why do scammers say they’re from Nigeria? Mentioning that country when you’re asking for money is a red flag to any savvy reader.
That’s precisely the point, according to Cormac Herley. Nigerian scammers deliberately write their messages to attract only the most gullible. Savvy readers recognize the scam and either laugh or delete the message. Those who respond identify themselves as potential victims. Spammers don’t waste their time cultivating relationships with people who are unlikely to give them money. Instead, they sucker their best targets into identifying themselves.
Notes: Cormac Herley’s “Why Do Nigerian Scammers Say They Are From Nigeria?” is available at http://research.microsoft.com/pubs/167719/WhyFromNigeria.pdf
Read more about the Nigerian scam at http://www.scambusters.org/NigerianFee.html